Deployed dentists have four-legged patients

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Patrice Clarke
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Capt. Matt Synder was only in country for three days when he learned his Saturday morning patient was a military member of another species -- the canine variety.

Working hand-in-hand with Army Capt. Daniel Skirvin, the veterinarian deployed here, the members of the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group dental section are able to provide dental service to the military and Department of Defense working dogs in the area.

"The vet came to me and asked if we could come to some type of agreement," said Maj. Aimee Zakaluzny, a 386th EMDG dentist. "We had the main piece of equipment needed to perform cleanings, and an exam room to do it in. The vet had the anesthesia equipment, monitors, and specific instruments used in K-9 dental care, so we pooled our resources."

Military working dogs deploy with their handlers and have to be medically cleared, including dental clearance, just like their handlers. DOD contract working dogs usually spend more time in theater than military working dogs, and often need checkups and cleanings here.

"At this location, we are usually doing emergency dental care or caring for routine dental aches and pains," Major Zakaluzny said. "Doing this was a way to break up the monotony of deployed life."

The K-9s are completely sedated for the entire procedure, and the veterinarian and a technician monitor the animals' vital signs and breathing throughout. The first four-legged patient, Nero, received a cleaning and extraction, which was an eye opener for Major Zakaluzny.

"Captain Skirvin helped with making sure I set the room up in a way that would make the procedures go smoothly," Major Zakaluzny said. "He did most of the procedure, but I participated closer to the end and found that it really wasn't as difficult as I thought."

From that first time, the team members have cleaned the teeth of five military working dogs, extracted five teeth, and performed one root canal. They have since passed the reins to the new dental crew.

"We got our feet wet pretty early," said Tech Sgt. Mary Ann Neffle, a dental technician with the 386th EMDG. "By day three in country, we were assisting the previous dental team with a K-9 cleaning. It wasn't what I expected. As Airmen, we are supposed to be able to adapt and be able to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to get the mission done."

Getting the K-9s completely mission ready is the number one priority for everyone involved, especially the handlers who rely on their dogs, their partners.

"This has been something we as handlers have wanted for a long time," said Daniel Silvelo, a DOD contract working dog handler. "These dogs mean absolutely everything to us and the mission. Getting them the health and dental care they need is important. The veterinarian, the veterinarian technicians, the dentist and everyone involved have been phenomenal throughout this entire process."